Thursday, March 27, 2014

How to Get Kids to Like Vegetables

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One of my proudest mama moments was the time the dentist asked my son for his favorite vegetable, and he replied "Kale". I was as shocked as she was, but savor that moment when he refuses to eat any fruits besides apples and blackberries and begs for "something with wheat" as an after-school snack.

How did I get here? I remember only a couple of years ago making a list of the 6 foods that my daughter would eat, 2 of which were chicken and cheese. I am so glad we have come this far... I have enough shame over the breastfeeding fiasco for my reputation as a nutritionist to backslide any further with picky kids not eating their vegetables!!!

How to Get Kids to Like Vegetables
  1. Set an example: Make sure you eat your vegetables. Kids model your behavior so if they see you enjoying your vegetables they will be much more likely to follow suit!
  2. Be persistant:  Research suggests that kids need multiple exposures to a food before it is accepted. In a study of Kindergarteners, 3 days of consecutive exposure to cabbage significantly increased how well it was liked. If they can do that with cabbage, just imagine what repeated exposure can do with other fruits and vegetables!
  3. Play with texture: Try cutting vegetables in sticks, rounds or even funny shapes using cookie cutters, or serving vegetables cooked vs. raw. My kids for example love raw carrots but dislike cooked carrots. I don't mind as long as they get them in some way.  I recently bought some ruffled carrot coins at the store for a change and my kids loved them. If I wasn't so lazy I could have done it myself!
  4. Offer dips: Jazz up boring vegetables with salad dressing, dip or hummus for more flavor. Kids love dipping, and snack-packs of hummus or guacamole make it easy. Even regular blue cheese salad dressing can take celery and cucumbers from blah to bl-amazing!
  5. Sprinkle with butter, salt, bacon, garlic or cheese: Boosting taste with herbs or small doses of tasty fats can change everything. I do secretly know that the whole reason my kids love kale is that we saute it until tender and then add SALT as the secret ingredient. Butter can also make vegetables more palatable and you can feel better knowing that the fat is helping with absorption of the carotenoids and other fat soluble vitamins!
  6. Mix into sauces and grains: Extra "stealth" nutrition is always good. Add finely diced vegetables to sauces (cauliflower to cheese sauce, or zucchini/carrots to tomato sauce) or grain dishes (rice pilaf, pasta casseroles, couscous or quinoa) for a nutrition boost. Just make sure to include vegetables along with the main meal too, so they continue to be exposed to the idea of eating regular vegetables.
  7. Praise "adventurous": Another idea I have had success with is praising the tiniest advance my timid eaters make towards being more adventurous. This has been a slow process but they have begun to think of themselves as adventurous, and are now willing to try a small bite of most anything. Some things are pleasant surprises (like seaweed soup) while others have been less well received (last night's garlicky fresh pesto for example)
  8. Try one bite: Along the same vein, we have a rule that kids have to try at least one bite of everything that is served. After that, if they truly don't like it, they don't have to eat it (but they do have to eat something on their plate). They don't have to finish anything (according to Ellyn Satter that can backfire into power struggles and kids thinking of vegetables as a chore), but they do have to at least try it! 
  9. Make it fun: Use fun names or cut into fun shapes. My husband does something as simple as make a face out of tomatoes, carrot and pepper slices that my kids love! You can get creative with fun cutters or just call broccoli "mini-trees", kids love fun! In a 2009 study, kids ate twice as many "X-ray vision carrots" even after the label was removed!
  10. Get them involved: Take kids to the grocery store / farmer's market and let them pick the weekly vegetables, or have them help in the kitchen. Research has shown that kids are more likely to eat the foods that they have helped prepare.
Of course, they still hate Brussel sprouts and cabbage, but they happily enjoy most of the rest...

Good luck!

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